Quite new to Linux printing and scanning

Once upon a time, I owned a slow, noisy dot matrix printer. Which has been dropped since a long time, as the specific ribbon cartridge was no more produced.

I have long resisted the purchase of a new printer, for various reasons:

  • no substantial need for it
  • ink cartridge are expensive
  • another kind of electronic device in a house already full of them
  • I use fast printers at work, which all do fancy stuff: copying, stapling, sorting and scanning; I feared being disappointed with cheap home printers

But at last Christmas, due to pressing requests to Santa Klaus, I finally succombed and went hunting for a printer.

The home/SOHO printer landscape has changed a lot since the dot matrix era. I fast figured out I could get for below £100:

  • a networked device doing printing, copying and scanning
  • all the above in color and at photo quality

The networked printers mostly do Wi-Fi, which I don't use. The available choices are a bit more limited for wired ethernet. I wanted also out of the box Linux support, so this excluded the most recent models.

The current state of the art for Linux printer drivers is here: http://www.openprinting.org/printers

For scanner drivers, look here: http://www.sane-project.org/cgi-bin/driver.pl

I finally went for the Epson Stylus SX515W, as it was available locally for £80.

Epson Stylus SX515W installation

The Epson Stylus SX515W appears to be similar for all practical purpose to the Epson Stylus SX510W. List of features:

  • printing, copying and scanning in color
  • ethernet, USB and Wi-Fi networking
  • slots for a lot of memory cards (CompactFlash, Memory Stick, SD and xD-Picture directly, other via adapters)

The operation guide is quite terse, it shows you where the power plug is, but you have to deduce the place of the USB and LAN jacks, as these are not very visible from the outside. There is a CD with drivers, but it is Windows/Mac specific, so I didn't dig further. You may have luck with Wine.

The printer has a panel control with an LCD screen, and it is obvious enough how to use them to define an IP address for your printer, so it becomes a device of your LAN. So far USB and Wi-Fi networking not tested.


No need for a driver for that. The printer offers copy and photo buttons. The photo button adds crop and resize options over the copy button.

Memory card

Various options to ease choosing the photos to print from a camera memory card. Not tested so far.


You have to install cups (in my case, the Debian cups package), and the Gutenprint drivers. In Debian Lenny, Gutenprint drivers are available in package cups-driver-gutenprint, but the SX515W is too new to be included there. So you have to install directly that package from the Gutenprint project. Notice that this package is external to the Debian system; it installs in /opt and has a dependency on package lsb.

After that, you can install/manage the printer via http://localhost:631, and printing will work. I was happy to notice that information like ink level is accessible through the printing options of popular applications (e.g. evince, mozilla, openoffice).


Printing is done from computer to printer, so you command it from the computer. You are ready to scan when you have put the document to be scanned in the printer, so there is a scan button command on the printer panel. That obviously will work only with some software installed on the computer where you want to send the scan.

You have to install package libsane. Here again, libsane from Debian Lenny appears too old, you have to get the package for Squeeze. You can go ahead with this: it won't pull in only a few other Squeeze packages. So your stable Lenny system won't end up being half Squeeze.

Then you will have to install a frontend to control the scanning process. xsane is the standard tool for that, it should come with every Gnome desktop installation. Starting xsane will recognize your scanner and offer you to start a scan with various options, and this will indeed work perfectly.

But remember what I said before: it's more logical to start the scan from the printer. And that won't work. In scan mode (scan button pushed on the printer), a menu is available to choose the networking method; only USB is available there. So something is still wrong.

xsane is not the only scanning application around; it got some competition recently from applications claiming to be [more lightweight and simpler to use](http://www.linuxinsider.com/story/Simple-Scan-Brings-Much-Needed-Sanity-to-SANE-71623.html ).

A final word about the Sane project: the fact that scanning can work through the network for some scanner models is not emphasized a lot. The possibility is even missing in the latest Scanner-HOWTO from 2004.


So far, except for the above scan button problem, everything works fine with that multipurpose printer. Only time will tell the following:

  • is the device robust enough?
  • the set of ink cartridges of all colors is around £20; is that fair for the number of printouts per set?
  • the device is indirectly promoted as good enough to avoid you going to the photo lab for your prints, as you have options for photo quality paper or glossy look; is this true, especially w.r.t. the previous point?